Cactusfilter: commercial cactus soil changed to a much shittier formula?
January 3, 2022 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Small gardening question: am I imagining a change in most commercial cactus mix, and where can I get the old kind?

Since the pandemic and maybe a little earlier, I've noticed that the cactus/succulent/citrus mixes I can get in big box garden stores changed their formula from potting soil+sand+perlite to one that's mostly sand and coconut coir. It doesn't drain well and hardens in unpleasant ways and I've had to either mix my own or hunt down better but more expensive indie mixes at local nurseries. I'm finding the same problem in potting or outdoor soils too, but cacti seem more sensitive to it.
Gardeners of metafilter, what's up with this? Can you recommend a big-box company that has the old formulation?
posted by moonlight on vermont to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The mainstream succulent/citrus mixes have always been poor for their intended usage, but I agree that they have decreased further in quality since the pandemic. I've always amended them for succulents; I used to use them straight for tropicals but now I'm usually amending them at least a little even for tropicals. I still prefer the MiracleGro succulent/citrus soil as the starter but it's probably about 1/3 of the final mixture I use for succulents.

I buy lava rock/pumice from and perlite from any big box store and mix those in. Sometimes I toss some large sand/small gravel in as well, and very occasionally turface/clay pellets if I think it's helpful for pH reasons. does sell a decent succulent mix themselves but it's pricey.
posted by vegartanipla at 3:14 PM on January 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The change may be due to the move away from peat and toward coir in potting mixes for sustainability reasons, and coir "behaves" differently from peat. I've had some good results growing in (slightly amended) Sun Gro Black Gold Cactus Mix, which is fairly readily available in the US, though supplies can run short in the spring I've noticed (and have just made a note to self to buy some before gardening season gets underway this spring).
posted by vers at 5:22 PM on January 3, 2022

Best answer: I've not found that cactus/succulent/citrus mixes have changed drastically because of the pandemic; they've always performed poorly for me and I've seen much more success in using a home-made soil mix. Quality fluctuates all the time on these products, but is always usually not 'great' unless you're spending a load of money on ultra premium products. I've tried so many different pre-mixed soil blends, and lost so many great plants to root rot because they're just too dense and cakey.

I would highly encourage you not to use a peat/sphagnum-based soil (of which Sun Gro products are); peat is an extremely important carbon reserve that we as a species are decimating, and it is not easily replaced. Plants at home are great, but peat bogs need to stay peat bogs.

Alternatives like coir are perfectly acceptable and much more environmentally friendly, but do require reformulation. Coir tends to hold onto moisture a bit better than peat, so extra grit/sand/pumice is required to balance it out. Lots of folks use the 1:2:3 ratio of coarse sand, pumice/perlite, and potting soil. Instead of the potting soil, I tend to go more towards a 1:1:1 coarse sand, pumice/perlite, coir, and add in a skosh of worm castings and add in some chonky bits of orchid bark (fir). Since this soil is slightly more inert than most succulent soils, I tend to fertilize a bit more while watering.

I live in a decidedly urban area, and was surprised for one, how many local feed stores I have nearby, and how accommodating those feed stores would be in making custom soil mixes in any amount I'd like to purchase (at prices really no different than big box stores). Sometimes if you're lucky, a really big gardening store or plant nursery will have bulk bins that you can purchase raw ingredients from so you're only buying what you need instead of having a half a bag of pumice kicking around.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:15 PM on January 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all! I'm extremely down to support more sustainable gardening practices and thanks for the cactus mix homebrew recipes!
posted by moonlight on vermont at 11:56 AM on January 5, 2022

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